Folks making it into the Progressives list are largely game designers who stood out from the crowd of traditional creators. Obvious? Sure.
But how did they differentiate? Well, to make it into this section of the list, you have to implement brand new ideas in game development, perhaps branching in unexpected yet compelling directions. Alternatively, you can simply make what already works, work a whole lot better.
Ace of Diamonds: Dr. Ray Muzyka & Dr. Greg Zeschuk, EA BioWare
Over the past decade, Ray Muzyka's and Greg Zeschuk's BioWare has turned the previously niche genre of Western computer RPGs into a mass-market phenomenon. From the groundbreaking Baldur's Gate to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and beyond, BioWare gets it.
And now that Mass Effect is enjoying impressive sales on the Xbox 360, Sonic Chronicles has reinterpreted an icon, and "that MMO" has been announced -- well, the multi-hundred million-dollar purchase of BioWare Pandemic by EA is vindicated, right?
King of Diamonds: Jason West, Infinity Ward/Activision
When Activision decided that it needed a game to compete with EA's Medal of Honor, it turned to the developers at Infinity Ward, many of whom had already cut their teeth on the acclaimed series of WWII shooters. The result was Call of Duty, and within an impressively short period of time it has become a cornerstone franchise for the publisher.
With Call of Duty 4, one of the highlights of last holiday season, Infinity Ward stepped away from the World War II setting and crafted a shooter that was as sophisticated in its narrative as it was in its software engineering. In an already overcrowded genre, the game has sold more than 10 million copies -- and that's why CTO West and his compatriots deserve honoring.
Queen of Diamonds: Chris Chung, NCSoft
The MMO market is a hotbed of exuberant investment and wildly optimistic publicity. The undeniable success of World of Warcraft has convinced many companies that a new gold rush is on with nearly limitless opportunities to print money. The reality is a little more complex, and it's been interesting to see how Korean powerhouse NCSoft has dealt with it.
Arguably its greatest Western success has been with Seattle-based ArenaNet and Guild Wars, and that's why, after some missteps with Tabula Rasa, Chris Chung is essentially running Western business for the firm. So with a sequel coming, and a pledge to flourish in the subscription MMO space, Chung seems perfectly set up to execute on a portfolio of competitive MMOs -- something not many others can say.
Jack of Diamonds: Goichi Suda, Grasshopper Manufacture
2008 will go down as the year punk broke, at least as far as upstart Japanese developer Grasshopper Manufacture is concerned. When it was announced in August that Electronic Arts was publishing a new game from Suda, produced by Resident Evil supremo Shinji Mikami and co-developed with Mizuguchi's Q Entertainment, we couldn't help but imagine the sound of Grasshopper's buzzing, three chord rave-ups transformed into the chromium roar of a new supergroup.
And with the critically beloved No More Heroes getting a Wii sequel, the bold, amusing rebel stylistic strokes are apparently coming to a much larger worldwide audience -- all for the good.
10 of Diamonds: Emil Pagliarulo, Bethesda Softworks
The Fallout series has a long history of dealing with the weight of fan expectations. Now that the franchise has transitioned to a new developer in Bethesda, lead writer and designer Emil Pagliarulo has to walk a fine line between staying true to Fallout's post-apocalyptic roots, and making its Oblivion-esque open-world RPG evolution accessible to a console audience.
By what we've seen so far, the Looking Glass school of game design graduate has the chops to do it, making it one of holiday 2008's key games.
9 of Diamonds: Jonathan Smith, Traveller's Tales
Working with licensed properties has long been a fact of life within the video game industry. In fact, it could be argued that licensed properties provide the daily working capital needed to keep the business running. Still, in this sometimes unglamorous sector, there are developers like Traveller's Tales, which does outstanding work that far exceeds audience expectations.
Titles like Lego Star Wars (and Indiana Jones and Batman and...) are witty and delightful. Smith's work may seem like an unholy promotional mélange, but it takes deep talent and craftsmanship to bring such irresistibly fun games to the whole family.
8 of Diamonds: Atsushi Inaba, PlatinumGames
Realizing that it's better to be The Man than to work for him, Atsushi Inaba and the Okami creators at Clover Studios left the relative security of Capcom for the wilds of independence. Of course, the resulting PlatinumGames studio, which includes Hideki Kamiya, Shinji Mikami, and Shigenori Nishikawa, is a powerhouse of Japanese development talent so its success is fairly assured -- but it's an important statement in the relatively staid Japanese market that major creators can strike out on their own.
And the reaction to PlatinumGames' signing of a four game deal with Sega seems to indicate that talent is dictating the terms of the deal, even in Japan -- symbolically vital for that territory.
7 of Diamonds: Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler, 2D Boy
The development of the tremendous World of Goo -- just-debuted on PC and WiiWare, and at one point the highest ever Metacritic-rated game on Nintendo's console -- is an inspiration for game designers who believe in the DIY culture that video games are founded on, but find themselves making rote titles in cubicles.
Created by ex-Electronic Arts employees Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel, World of Goo was built on the go with a tiny, essentially two-person team, and a "better, faster, cheaper" ethos that utilized many open source solutions and was free from the money-draining overhead of a physical office. This, ladies and gentlemen, may be the future of short-form gaming.